18th August 2018
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New hotel to be ‘home from home’ for oil workers – but locals welcome too

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The Moorfield Hotel in Brae promises to bustle with guests when it opens in two months – even if it is still a construction site at the moment.

A 60-strong team of tradesmen are busily working towards the planned completion date of what will be Shetland’s largest hotel on 22nd July. 

That will pave the way for teams of staff to complete three weeks of training in time for the August 12th opening. From then on residents will be able to look out the large windows which flank the bar and restaurant area and gaze across Sullom Voe.

A panorama of the Moorfield Hotel. Photo: Dave Donaldson

A panorama of the Moorfield Hotel. Photo: Dave Donaldson

Enjoying the view, guests will tuck into locally-sourced produce served by people employed from within the isles.

And guests there most certainly will be. Ceilings and furnishings may still need to be added, but the Moorfield must enjoy one of the most promising business plans yet for a new hotel venture.

All of its 100 rooms will be occupied by workers from Total for the first year.

And 80 per cent of the hotel rooms are booked by the French energy giant for the following six years, as the new gas plant takes shape.

That’s not to say Shetlanders are excluded. Developers Redefine BDL Ltd are keen that locals and tourists should be made welcome for a meal or drink.

The Shetland Times was given a tour of the up and coming building, thanks to the Moorfield’s general manager, Ailsa Sangster, and John Cullen of Irish construction firm McAleer and Rushe.

Site manager John Cullen. Photo: Dave Donaldson

Site manager John Cullen. Photo: Dave Donaldson

Ailsa has gained experience in the hotel trade ever since she bought the Spiggie Hotel in the late nineties with her parents.

She has also worked for Sodexo at the hospital, and at the Sella Ness accommodation building for 14 months. She is clearly relishing the challenge of the new Brae venture.

John, meanwhile, has seen the hotel emerge in under a year.

Prior to his arrival here he man­aged a hotel site at Blackfriars in Central London. Moorfield will, no doubt, offer something of a contrast.

Before going in, photographer Dave Donaldson and I are ushered into one of the on-site cabins for the obligatory hard hat and high-visibility waistcoat, while a general construction-site bustle goes on in what will, one day, shape up to be a car-park capable of taking over 50 vehicles.

So far, so Auf Wiedersehen Pet. But it’s not until you enter the hotel itself that you realise how much thought has gone into it.

Access to the vast building – it measures over 48,000 square feet – will be through a revolving door which will lead into an expansive reception in front of an admini­stration office.

Like many hotels, the Moorfield boasts a luggage store – except this one seems unusually large. The extra size is needed, Ailsa says, because of the planned rotation of plant workers who will call the Moorfield home for three weeks at a time.

They are two gaping holes just now, but two lifts will be installed to offer access to the three levels.

Nearby are two meeting rooms which, once completed and fur­nished, will feature a removable partition that will help staff turn the two rooms quickly into one big one, should the need arise.

There is no swimming pool – the Brae pool is close-by – but the promised gym will shortly be filled with fitness equipment similar to that installed at leisure centres by Shetland Recreational Trust.

Buffet meals will be provided in the restaurant which boasts those impressive views.

The interior will provide a warm feel, with heavy fabrics, exposed stone and timber.

A buzz is expected to emerge around breakfast time, as large numbers come down to the largely open-plan eating area for their first meal of the day. Similarly, the hotel will be busy for evening meals.

Visiting guests should be able to enjoy choosing from an a la-carte lunch menu, however, when the atmosphere should be more relaxed.

This view of what will be the restaurant and bar gives an indication of the scale of the building. The windows, along the left hand wall, overlook Sullom Voe. Photo: Dave Donaldson

This view of what will be the restaurant and bar.

Professional caterers will work out of a large kitchen, too. A laundry service is also promised.

There are “mess rooms” on each floor, where Total staff are expected to congregate after a hard day’s graft.

Looking more ready for use than anything else are the 100 hotel bedrooms. Not that we poked our noses into every one – the rooms are identical, each boasting a paint­ing of a Viking longship, presum­ably to give the place a special Shetland-feel.

The hotel rooms have already been the centre of a story. They were contained in specially-built modules before being shipped, fully furnished, from Warrenpoint Harbour in County Down. There they were built in factory-condi­tions by experienced workers at McAleer and Rushe.

BDL’s chief technical officer, Ross Morrow, says the modular method of construction was becom­ing more widely used for hotel projects – particularly in London where sites are “tight” and costs are high.

The construction firm has already built two hotels for BDL – one in Milton Keynes, the other in Liverpool.

“This is quite a unique project for McAleer and Rushe, because

it allowed them to build these modules half an hour down the road from their head office.

“All the men who usually spend their lives on the road – people like John – were fighting to work on this project because it was only half an hour away from them.”

All the rooms need is for the plastic coverings to be taken away and some last minute snagging before the cleaners are sent in to make them sparkle.

The obligatory tea and coffee-making facilities will form part of all the rooms, as well as a television and fridge.

Half the rooms are fitted with baths, while the remaining 50 per cent have baths and showers.

One of the bathroom suites. Photo: Dave Donaldson

One of the bathroom suites. Photo: Dave Donaldson

John says the rooms offer a “home from home feel”, with a mix of modern and practical.

Although big, the architectural design somehow manages to avoid looking cumbersome, or slab-sided.

Much use is made outside of Shetland stone-cladding.

Ross says significant methods were used by East-Kilbride archi­tects, ica (the name is in lower-case), to mitigate against the hotel’s considerable size.

He adds the council’s planning department had “embraced” the idea during numerous meetings prior to the application being made.

“You can see the top floor is primarily dormer, in that it has not got the usual three storeys plus a roof-space. It’s got what you might call two-and-a-half-storeys, but of course there are three storeys of bedrooms there.

“With the building being in a kink which breaks the building into sections, it splits that overall mass in two. We are conscious that it is a big building, but I think they [ica] have done a good job.”

Ailsa says the emphasis will be on providing a hotel that is distinct to the area, and will draw on re­sources available within the isles.

“It will be a local hotel, to be part of the community and employ local people and use local produce.”

Ross describes a company-wide policy of using locally-sourced pro­duce. He said Shetland’s remote­ness made it all the more sensible.

“We always have a real emphasis, anyway. But in this instance in particular there was an opportunity for us to integrate further – and also be able to provide Total workers local produce.”

But while all rooms are block-booked for the first year, Ross is determined that locals and tourists should also enjoy the building.

“If we get it right it will be a lovely place to sit and have a beer. We want that local community, similarly, to come and sip a beer. We want to create a nice place for people to drop by.

“This hotel is not let for ever more. We’re keen for the com­munity, and tourists, to come and use it.”

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About Ryan Taylor

Ryan Taylor has worked as a reporter since 1995, and has been at The Shetland Times since 2007, covering a wide variety of news topics. Before then he reported for other newspapers in the Highlands, where he was raised, and in Fife, where he began his career with DC Thomson. He also has experience in broadcast journalism with Grampian Television. He has lived in Shetland since 2002, where he harbours an unhealthy interest in old cars and motorbikes.

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